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What is Biodiesel?

Biodiesel is a vegetable oil-based fuel that runs in diesel engines - cars, buses, trucks, construction equipment, boats, generators, and home heating oil units. It's usually made from soy or canola oil, and can also be made from recycled fryer oil (yes, from McDonalds or your local Chinese restaurant). You can blend it with regular diesel or run 100% biodiesel.

What are the benefits?

  1. National security: Since it's made domestically, it reduces our dependence on foreign oil. That's good.
  2. National economy: Using biodiesel keeps our fuel buying dollars at home instead of sending it to foreign countries. This reduces our trade deficit and creates jobs.
  3. It's sustainable & non-toxic: Eventually we are going to run out of oil. Biodiesel is 100% renewable... we'll never run out of it. And if it gets into your water supply, there's no problem - it's 100% organic.
  4. Emissions: Biodiesel is nearly carbon-neutral, meaning it contributes almost zero emissions to global warming. Biodiesel also dramatically reduces other harmful emissions.
  5. Engine life: Studies have shown it reduces engine wear by as much as one half, primarily because it provides excellent lubricity. Even a 2% biodiesel/98% diesel blend will help. Read more.
  6. Drivability: We have yet to meet anyone who doesn't notice an immediate smoothing of the engine with biodiesel. It just runs quieter, and produces less smoke.

Are there any negatives?

Of course. There is no perfect fuel.

  1. Primarily that it's not readily available in much of the nation yet. (View locations) Consumption increased from 500,000 gallons in 2000 to 15 million gallons in 2001, so hopefully availability will change soon.
  2. Biodiesel will clean your injectors and fuel lines. If you have an old diesel vehicle, there's a chance that your first tank or two of biodeisel could free up all the accumulated crud and clog your fuel filter.
  3. It has a higher gel point. B100 (100% biodiesel) gets slushy a little under 32°F. But B20 (20% biodiesel, 80% regular diesel - more commonly available than B100) has a gel point of -15°F. Like regular diesel, the gel point can be lowered further with additives such as kerosene (blended into winter diesel in cold-weather areas).
  4. Old vehicles (older than mid-90s) might require upgrades of fuel lines (a cheap, easy upgrade), as biodiesel can eat through certain types of rubber. Almost all new vehicles should have no problem with biodiesel.
  5. Finally, the one emission that goes up with biodiesel is NOx. NOx contributes to smog. We feel that a slight increase in NOx is greatly offset by the reduction in all other emissions and the major reduction in greenhouse gasses.

Additional Information

Safer and Cleaner Fuel

  • Biodiesel offers fleet operators a cleaner alternative to petroleum diesel. Biodiesel is made from renewable fats and oils, such as vegetable oils, through a simple refining process. Pacific Biodiesel produces biodiesel from used restaurant fryer oil. One of the main components for fryer oil are soybeans, a major crop produced by almost 400,000 farmers in 29 states.

  • Biodiesel is recognized as an alternative fuel. In its neat form and in blends of 20% or more with petroleum diesel, the US Department of Energy has acknowledged biodiesel as an alternative fuel. Biodiesel can be used for vehicle credits under the Energy Policy Act.

  • Biodiesel operates in conventional combustion-ignition engines, from light to heavy-duty, just like petroleum diesel. No engine modifications are required, and biodiesel maintains the payload capacity and range of diesel. Since engine modifications are not required, there's no need to change vehicles, spare parts inventories, refueling stations or specially skilled mechanics. Vehicle hoses need to be checked after the first 6 months of operation on biodiesel. Replacement of non-compatible hoses may be necessary, but is not usually difficult or expensive. Blends of 20% or less tend to have little effect on even non-compatible hoses.

  • Biodiesel cuts down on targeted emissions. Biodiesel used in a 20 percent blend with petroleum diesel and a catalytic converter will cut air pollution. Particulate matter is reduced 31 percent, carbon monoxide by 21 percent and total hydrocarbons by 47 percent. Biodiesel used in a blend will also reduce sulfur emissions and aromatics. Using 100% biodiesel further reduces emissions and carcinogenic compounds.

Practical Alternative for Marine Market

Biodiesel use in the marine market can be practical and safe. In its pure form, biodiesel is less harsh on marine environments and easier for boaters to handle and store. The marine industry consumes about 10 percent of the petroleum diesel in the U.S.

  • Biodiesel can work in several marine factions. Because biodiesel can replace or blend with petroleum diesel without engine modifications, it is a viable alternative to several categories of the marine industry, including recreational boats, inland ocean-going commercial ships, research vessels and the U.S. Coast Guard Fleet. Today, much of the emphasis is on recreational boats, which consume about 95 million gallons of diesel fuel annually.
  • Biodiesel is a safe alternative fuel. Biodiesel has a higher flash point than regular diesel. It is classified as non-flammable by the NFPA, and is not required to carry a Hazardous Material label when being shipped.
  • Biodiesel is easier on engines. Biodiesel blended as low as a 2% rate with low sulfer or ultra-low sulfer petroleum diesel increases lubricity to traditional high sulfur diesel fuel levels. Field tests indicate that engine life is increased with biodiesel usage.
  • Biodiesel is "user-friendly." The use of biodiesel and biodiesel blends results in a noticeable change in exhaust odor. The reduction in smell and change of odor are easier on ship workers and pleasure craft boaters. In fact, it's been compared to the smell of French fries. Users also report no eye irritation. Since biodiesel is oxygenated, diesel engines have more complete combustion than when using petroleum fuel.

The Role of Biodiesel

The goal of the biodiesel industry is not to replace petroleum diesel, but to extend its usefulness. Biodiesel is one of several alternative fuels that have a place in the development of a balanced energy policy. The role of biodiesel is to contribute to the longevity and cleanliness of diesel engines. The most likely use of biodiesel will be in certain niche markets that require a cleaner-burning, biodegradable fuel.

Emissions

The Clean Air Act allows the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to assess the contribution of non-road emissions to air pollution. EPA proposes to include marine diesel compression-ignition engines in the same regulatory framework as land-based, non-road compression-ignition engines.

Regulatory Liability

The Oil Pollution Act of 1990 increases the civil and criminal penalties for causing spills and for violating marine safety and environmental protection laws. The law applies to all vessels, and fines up to $10,000 per day can be levied against serious offenders.

Clean Water Act

The Clean Water Act requires states to establish standards for pollutants like grease and oil, in an effort to restore and maintain the chemical, physical and biological condition of U.S. waters.